BayToday Article – August 31, 2021

National Trust for Canada puts North Bay’s underground NORAD Complex on Endangered Places List

The National Trust notes that this unique site is in good condition and holds potential for creative and innovative reuse.
August 31, 2021 By: Jeff Turl

Efforts to preserve North Bay’s underground NORAD Complex got a big boost this week as the National Trust for Canada put it on its Endangered Places List. 

The National Trust is a national charitable not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and renewal of heritage buildings and historic places across Canada.

“It supports what I’m trying to do,” said Trevor Schindeler, who heads a campaign to save the Underground NORAD Complex. “They have the same aim across the country trying to highlight heritage buildings and encouraging governments to help preserve them. By listing it, it shines an international spotlight on our local complex.”

See: Campaign started to save the underground NORAD complex

And: Study underway to decommission the SAGE underground complex

And:Opinion: Underground NORAD Complex should be designated as an official historic site

The sprawling modern-day fortress is built under 600 feet of solid granite directly below Canadian Forces Base North Bay. Built to withstand a direct hit by a 4-megaton nuclear blast, and protected by three 19-ton steel blast doors, it was designed to provide life support for 400 people following a nuclear attack.

The National Trust noticed Schindeler’s campaign and contacted him to ask about the building and the site. and suggested it be placed on the endangered places list. “It was done very quickly and on their own initiative,” the former college professor notes.

“The Complex was designated as a ‘Classified Federal Heritage Building’ due to the central role it played in Canada’s contribution to the air defence of North America during the Cold War,” says the Trust’s website.” The bunker made the city a potential target of the Cold War, and remains a well known local landmark.”

It points out that it is still the largest construction project to have been completed in the region, and led to a significant period of development for North Bay in the 1960s. “Its construction also contributed to the physical transformation of the city, as the rock excavated to create the cavern was used to improve the waterfront- a focal point of the lakeside downtown.”

The National Trust notes that this unique site is in good condition and holds potential for creative and innovative reuse.  In particular, the site has drawn the attention of the Canadian Broadcasting Museum Foundation, which requires a physical archive space for its collection of national digital materials.  

“It’s the right thing to do,” Schindeler told BayToday, “I can’t imagine anyone saying that it’s not good to conserve heritage buildings. I continue to get positive feedback.”

Schindeler, believes redeveloping the NORAD Complex into an archival centre provides a perfect opportunity to reuse a heritage site for a modern technical purpose.  

The Museum Foundation sees potential in using the complex as a state-of-the-art repository and digitization centre for archival audio and visual material, to be accessed easily online across Canada. The archives would benefit from the insulation of the Canadian Shield, protecting digital resources from harmful electromagnetic fields, a necessity that creates high building costs in new archival structures.

“The National Trust is calling on the federal government to provide bold leadership in the reuse of existing buildings and structures and retention of cultural assets,” says a news release. “The reuse of the NORAD Complex by the Museum Foundation would provide an innovative second life for the complex, prevent the need to construct a new facility, and create jobs in northern Ontario.

Schindeler, agrees that it would be a wonderful use for the facility. His primary goal is to preserve the Complex for posterity and thinks that using the facility for archival storage is compatible with it being declared a national historic site. 

While the City wrote a letter of support for a feasibility study a few years ago, neither it, the economic development department nor Tourism North Bay have shown any eagerness to lend support to the effort.

“It’s more their job than mine,” Schindeler muses. “It’s a bit of a mystery why the City hasn’t championed the preservation of the underground complex.”

Follow the Save the NORAD Complex campaign on Twitter @NoradComplex, on Facebook @NORADComplex or at the Underground NORAD Complex blog.

NORAD Complex put on “Endangered Places List”

The National Trust for Canada has put the underground NORAD Complex on its Endangered Places List. 

The National Trust is a national charitable not-for-profit organization dedicated towards the preservation and renewal of heritage buildings and historic places across Canada.

Listing the NORAD Complex as an endangered place will help to bring national attention to this sprawling modern-day fortress built under 600 feet of solid granite directly below Canadian Forces Base North Bay. 

The National Trust notes that this unique site is in good condition and holds potential for creative and innovative reuse.  In particular, the site has drawn the attention of the Canadian Broadcasting Museum Foundation, which requires a physical archive space for its collection of national digital materials.  

Redeveloping the NORAD Complex into an archival centre provides a perfect opportunity to reuse a heritage site for a modern technical purpose.  The Museum Foundation sees potential in using the Complex as a state-of-the-art repository and digitization centre for archival audio and visual material, to be accessed easily online across Canada. The archives would benefit from the insulation of the Canadian Shield, protecting digital resources from harmful electromagnetic fields, a necessity that creates high building costs in new archival structures.

The National Trust is calling on the federal government to provide bold leadership in the reuse of existing buildings and structures and retention of cultural assets.  The reuse of the NORAD Complex by the Museum Foundation would provide an innovative second life for the Complex, prevent the need to construct a new facility, and create jobs in northern Ontario.

Open letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Canadian Heritage
Government of Canada

Dear Minister:

How many buildings in Canada have been designed to withstand a direct hit by a nuclear bomb? 

Just one, the Underground NORAD Complex.  This modern-day fortress was built under 600 feet of solid granite directly below Armed Forces Base North Bay.  It is accessed via a three-kilometer tunnel that was designed to deflect a nuclear blast, and is protected by three 19-ton nuclear blast doors.  Sadly, these fortifications do not protect it against government indifference.  This remarkable heritage building is in danger of being demolished and allowed to flood.

The Complex made North Bay ground zero during the most dangerous military conflict the world has ever seen; the Cold War.  Canada was in the unfortunate position of lying directly between the United States and the Soviet Union – the two primary adversaries.  If the conflict had turned “hot”, Canadian and American fighter jets would have confronted Soviet bombers over Canadian airspace.  For over four decades, air defence personnel worked in the Complex around the clock protecting North America from nuclear war. 

With development of the hydrogen bomb and advanced missile technology, NORAD has determined that the Complex no longer serves a viable military purpose.  In 2006 it moved its air defence operations above ground.  The facility, which would cost over $500 million to build today, is sitting vacant.  The Department of National Defence (DND) plans to decommission the facility.  Given its enormous historical significance, the Complex should be preserved.  

Why is it important to preserve the Complex?  Beyond maintaining a remarkable heritage building that represents an important era of Canadian history, it would educate both Canadian and foreign visitors about the continuing dangers of nuclear war.  The threat of nuclear war has never gone away.  In fact, in recent years, the threat has increased.  It is difficult, however, for people to comprehend the dangers of nuclear war.  There is no better way to appreciate the magnitude of the threat than by visiting the Complex and seeing the nuclear blast doors in person.  It makes it all vividly real.

As Minister of Heritage, you understand the importance of keeping Canadian history alive.  The Complex could be repurposed in a way that honours its past.  It could become a national historic site or park.  It could be developed into a museum, perhaps a Museum of Modern History.  As well, it could become a Canadian repository for archival audio and visual material. 

Please champion the Underground NORAD Complex.  Commission a feasibility study into preserving and redeveloping the Complex – before the DND floods it. 

Other readers, please email Nipissing–Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota at Anthony.Rota@parl.gc.ca, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at pm@pm.gc.ca, to let them know that you support this initiative. 

Follow this campaign on Twitter @NoradComplex, on Facebook @NORADComplex or at the Underground NORAD Complex blog.

Yours sincerely,

Trevor Schindeler
Campaign to Save the Underground NORAD Complex
North Bay, Ontario

Heritage Buildings vs Historical Sites

The Underground NORAD Complex is composed of two classified federal heritage buildings, but has not yet recognized as a national historic site.  What is the difference between heritage buildings and national historic sites, and who makes these designations?

I will answer the second question first.  Oddly, it is Parks Canada – which operates under the Ministry of the Environment – that is responsible for designating heritage buildings and national historic sites, not the Department of Canadian Heritage.  Parks Canada is home to both the  Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office  and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

As the name suggests, the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO) is responsible for identifying heritage buildings owned by the federal government, and is mandated to help federal departments preserve their heritage buildings.  The Minister of the Environment ultimately designates federal heritage buildings.  Back in March of 2005, both the Power Cavern and the Control Building were designated as classified federal heritage buildings.  There are over 1,200 federal heritage buildings in Canada.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) has a broader mandate.  It advises the Canadian government on the commemoration of nationally significant aspects of Canada’s history.  Again, it is the Minister of the Environment who has the authority to designate a site, event or person to be of national historic significance.  Some national historic sites are associated with a particular building, but not all.  Usually, a bronze plaque is put up.  A historical event or person might be commemorated with a monument.  There are almost 1,000 national historic sites in Canada.

A national historic site designation is more significant than a federal heritage building designation.  A structure with no particular historical importance may be designated as a federal heritage building because of its unique architecture.  A national historic site designation is only made if there is a direct association with a nationally significant aspect of our history.

Open Letter to the Minister of Environment

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, PC, MP
Minister of Environment (Parks Canada)
Government of Canada

Dear Minister:

Are you aware that the Department of National Defence (DND) has announced plans to decommission Classified Federal Heritage Buildings “53/Power Cavern and 55/Control Building”?  Likely, they will be demolished and allowed to flood.  You might not know about these two buildings.  Until recently they formed a secret military installation, the Underground NORAD Complex.

The Heritage Character Statement, created by Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO), Parks Canada, states the following:

FHBRO number: 03-110
DFRP number: 11377
Resource name: 53/Power Cavern and 55/Control Building (2-Building Structure)
Address: Canadian Air Defence Sector (CADS) Complex, CFB North Bay, Ontario
FHBRO status: “Classified” Federal Heritage Building
Construction: 1959-1963
Designer: RCAF Construction Engineering Branch
Original function: Headquarters of the Canadian Air Defence Sector (CADS) of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD)
Current function: Unchanged
Modifications: None significant
Custodian: Department of National Defence

Ironically, “classified” in FHBRO speak does not mean “secret”.  Rather, it refers to the highest level of protection accorded to heritage buildings.  

The Complex was ground zero during the Cold War against the former Soviet Union, the most dangerous military conflict the world has ever seen.  The Heritage Character Statement states that:

The CADS complex is one of the best examples of the national theme of Canada’s joint participation with the USA in the air defence of North America during the Cold War and illustrates more specifically the country’s commitment and participation to NORAD (the North American Air Defence Command), created in 1958. … The bunker made the town of North Bay a “hot spot” and potential target of the Cold War, and also contributed to its physical transformation, as the rock excavated to create the cavern was used to improve the town’s waterfront.

The United States paid two-thirds of the $51 million total cost of building the Complex.  Today, taking inflation into account, it would cost about $500 million to build. 

Under section 6.1.10 of the federal government’s Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property, the DND is required to consult with Parks Canada before demolishing a heritage building.  Further, the DND is required to use best efforts to find alternative uses for surplus heritage buildings.

As the Minister responsible for Parks Canada, please tell Canadians whether the DND consulted with the agency in a meaningful way about demolishing and flooding Classified Federal Heritage Buildings 53 and 55.  Further, please tell Canadians whether Parks Canada has considered how it might utilize this remarkable facility. 

The Complex, which was built 600 feet below a hill covered by hundreds of acres of forest, could be developed by Parks Canada into a national historic site or park.  It is accessed through two portals connected by a three-kilometer tunnel.  Visitors could enter through the South Portal, situated on the picturesque shores of Trout Lake, and walk down the tunnel to the three nuclear blast doors.  Parts of the Complex, such as the NORAD Command Centre and Power Cavern, could be made accessible to visitors. 

Why is it important to preserve the Complex?  Beyond maintaining two heritage buildings that have global historical significance, it would educate both Canadians and foreign visitors about the continuing dangers of nuclear war.  The threat of nuclear war has not gone away and in recent years it has increased.  However, it is difficult for people to comprehend the danger that nuclear war represents.  There is no better way to appreciate the magnitude of the threat than by visiting the Complex and seeing the nuclear blast doors in person.  It makes it all very real.

As the Minister responsible for Parks Canada, please champion the Underground NORAD Complex.  Commission a feasibility study into preserving the Complex and developing it into a national historic site or park – before the DND floods it.  This is a reasonable and affordable request. 

Other readers, please email Nipissing–Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota at Anthony.Rota@parl.gc.ca, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at pm@pm.gc.ca, to let them know that you support this initiative. 

Follow this campaign on Twitter @NoradComplex, on Facebook @NORADComplex or at the Underground NORAD Complex blog.

Yours sincerely,

Trevor Schindeler

Campaign to Save the Underground NORAD Complex

North Bay, Ontario

Underground NORAD Complex became “ground zero” during Cold War

Familiarity is said to breed contempt; what is familiar, fails to impress.  The Department of National Defence (DND) appears to have succumbed to this psychological syndrome.  It has recently announced plans to decommission the Underground NORAD Complex.  The Complex may be Canada’s most significant military heritage site.  It is certainly the most fortified.  You can be forgiven for not knowing about this military facility.  Until recently, it was a secret military installation. 

The Complex is a sprawling, three-story, modern-day fortress built under 600 feet of solid granite directly below Armed Forces Base North Bay.  Built to withstand a direct hit by a 4-megaton nuclear blast, and protected by three 19-ton steel blast doors, it was designed to provide life support for 400 people following a nuclear attack.  The Complex became “ground zero” in the most dangerous military conflict the world has ever seen, the Cold War.  Lying between the United States and the former Soviet Union, it is where Canada maintained world peace by preventing nuclear war.  Does history get more momentous?

With development of the hydrogen bomb and advanced missile technology, NORAD determined that the Complex no longer serves a viable military purpose.  In 2006 it moved its air defence operations above ground.  The Complex has been declared surplus and is currently sitting vacant.  Likely, the DND will demolish the facility and allow it to flood.

Due to its historical importance, the Complex has been designated as a “Classified Federal Heritage Building” by the National Historic Sites Directorate.  Section 6.1.10 of the federal government’s Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property provides that Parks Canada must be consulted before a heritage building is dismantled or demolished.  Further, it provides that best efforts must be made to find an appropriate alternative use for the property.

The DND has not indicated that it has consulted with Parks Canada about demolishing the Complex as required by law, nor has it told Canadians about the efforts it has made to find appropriate alternative uses for the Complex.  I suspect that no meaningful consultations were held, and that no serious efforts have been made to find appropriate alternative uses for the Complex.

The Complex is a remarkable one-of-a-kind structure that would cost over $500 million to build today.  It has enormous potential as a tourist destination.  It could be developed into a national historic site or park by Parks Canada.  Alternatively, it could be developed into a national museum – perhaps a Museum of Modern History – by the Ministry of Heritage. 

The Complex is built into a hill covered by hundreds of acres of forest.  It is accessed through two portals connected by a three-kilometer tunnel large enough to drive a bus through.  Visitors could access the facility through the South Portal located on the picturesque shores of Trout Lake.  Upon reaching the nuclear blast doors, visitors could be taken on a tour of the facility including the Command Centre were NORAD personnel surveyed the northern hemisphere for incoming Soviet missiles.  The Command Centre became the prototype for high-tech military command centres seen in countless movies and TV shows. 

The DND has expressed security concerns about transferring the Complex to a “third party” due to its location below an active military base and NORAD facility.  It is difficult to imagine, however, what enemy agents might do from 600 feet below ground that they could not more easily do from the public parking lot next to the new NORAD Command Centre.  Further, as the “third party” would be another department of the federal government, either Parks Canada or the Ministry of Heritage, the DND could be assured that all required security measures are being implemented. 

The federal government should at least commission a feasibility study into preserving the Complex and developing it into a tourist destination as a national historic site, park, or museum – before the DND floods it.  This is a reasonable request. 

If you agree that this extraordinary Canadian heritage site should be preserved, please email Nipissing–Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota at Anthony.Rota@parl.gc.ca, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at pm@pm.gc.ca, and let them know. 

The DND should consent to the NORAD Complex being designated as a national historic site

There are many abandoned forts across Canada that have become national historical sites. People are fascinated by military history, which make forts popular places to visit.

It is unlikely that you know about the latest Canadian military fortress to be abandoned.  Until recently, it was a high security military installation.  It is also the best fortified.  The Underground NORAD Complex is a sprawling, three-story, modern-day fortress built under 600 feet of granite directly below Armed Forces Base North Bay.  Built to withstand a direct hit by a 4-megaton nuclear blast, and protected by three 19-ton steel blast doors, it was designed to provide life support for 400 people following a nuclear attack. 

The Complex became ground zero in the most dangerous military conflict the world has ever seen, the Cold War.  Lying between the United States and the former Soviet Union, it is where Canada maintained world peace by preventing nuclear war.  Does history get more momentous?  Due to its historical importance, the Complex has been designated as a “Classified Federal Heritage Building” by the National Historic Sites Directorate.

With development of the hydrogen bomb and advanced missile technology, NORAD determined that the Complex no longer serves a viable military purpose.  In 2006 it moved its air defence operations above ground.  The Complex is sitting vacant.

In 2019, I applied to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) to have the Complex designated as a national historic site.  Clearly, it satisfies the HSMBC’s criteria.  It is an exceptional achievement in concept, design, and technology.  How many other buildings in Canada are designed to withstand a nuclear blast?  Further, it is explicitly and meaningfully associated with a significant historical era.  It should have been a slam-dunk.  However, the Department of National Defence (DND) would not consent to the site being designated.  No reason was given.

Designation is honorary in nature and commemorative in intent.  It does not affect ownership of the site, provide legal protection to the site, or give the public a right of access to the site.  All that happens is that a commemorative bronze plaque is installed.  Why would the DND withhold consent?

That question was answered when the DND recently announced plans to decommission the facility.  Likely, this means that the Complex will be demolished and allowed to flood.  Demolishing a newly designated national historic site would be awkward to justify. 

The Complex, which would cost over $500 million to build today, has enormous potential as a tourist destination.  It could be developed into a national historic site or park by Parks Canada.  Alternatively, it could be developed into a national museum – perhaps a Museum of Modern History – by the Ministry of Heritage. 

The federal government should commission a feasibility study into preserving the Complex and developing it into a tourist destination as a national historic site, park, or museum – before the DND floods it. 

If you agree that this extraordinary Canadian heritage site should be preserved, please email Nipissing–Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota at Anthony.Rota@parl.gc.ca, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at pm@pm.gc.ca, and let them know.